Monday, February 05, 2007

Dopod C720W

1b62 I started using the Dopod C720W in December 2006 after previously using the HP iPaq 6515. Moving from the Pocket PC 2003 platform to the Windows Mobile 2005 Smartphone Edition (WM2005 SE), I had several concerns. What is the usability like with no touch screen? Will my existing software work the same way in the Smartphone Edition? After using it for a couple of months, I can say that I am very comfortable with the WM2005 SE and even prefer it to the touch-screen Windows Mobile.

The lack of touch screen may prevent some types of software to be used (e.g. sketching, scribbling tools), but for the most part it becomes a blessing in disguise for a Smartphone. I always believe that a true Smartphone needs to be operable using one hand. The Treo line of phones does this very well (I used the Treo 600 and 650 prior to using the iPaq 6515). But we don't see other Windows Mobile phones (the touch-screen ones) concentrate on this usability feature. The C720W does one-hand operation very well. There are some drawbacks, for example scrolling becomes slower in Pocket Internet Explorer, but this is not a major issue.

The best part of the C720W may be its thumboard. It feels significantly better than the iPaq 6515 thumboard and a joy for typing emails and text messages. The text prediction functionality is excellent. Not only it offers suggestions to complete the word you're typing, it is also smart enough to guess and offer suggestions for the next word. It does this by looking at your past words. If I typed "Dear" after "Hello", the next time I type "Hello", it will offer "Dear" as a suggestion.

The C720W comes with a few nice software and utilities. Worth mentioning is the copy and paste utility which allows selecting, copying and pasting without using touch screen. It also comes with basic RSS reader, voice commander utility and a Java engine.

Besides the positive points, there are a number of things that can still be improved. I will start with the JOGGR. The JOGGR is meant to be a next-generation scroll wheel, implemented using touch pad technology. At the top of the touch strip is a touch button that functions as a “back” button. At the bottom of the touch strip there is another touch button to access the messaging functionality.

The problem with the JOGGR is that there is no tactile feedback between the top button, the touch strip and the bottom button. You can easily accidentally touch (and activate) either the top or bottom button while trying to scroll. The lack of tactile feedback also prevents you control your scroll speed. I had to furiously move my thumb up and down before realizing that I could easily achieve the same effect (while using much less energy) by clicking and holding the D-pad. There really is no motivation to use the JOGGR when you already have the D-pad. Fortunately there is an option to turn off JOGGR so its weaknesses are off of my mind.

I should also mention that the location of the JOGGR (on the right side and slightly to the front) also prevents you to access it using your left hand. This is a design flaw to both left-handers and right-handers because right-handers sometimes hold their phones using the left hand as well.

Another hardware weakness that I note is with the Wi-Fi reception. It is sufficient if you have a small house or does not sit too far from the wireless router, but in general its reception is fairly weak. If I sit next to my D-Link wireless router with it, I only get 60% signal quality strength.

Overall, I have a very positive experience with this Smartphone device. The form factor is excellent and its thinness and light weight are quite a difference compared to the iPaq 6515. The build quality is also very good. I dropped this phone twice from waist high to concrete floor, and it kept on running.